Most New Cars Fail to Earn Insurance Industry’s Top Safety Ratings

I recommend that anyone in the market for a new car read this article from the L.A. Times. You’ll find that due to tougher safety standards, fewer models were awarded the top safety rating by the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety. Here are the opening paragraphs.

Honda, Subaru and Volvo are making strides protecting the occupants of their cars, while big manufacturers such as General Motors are lagging behind, the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety said as it gave 22 vehicles its top safety pick rating.

Between its Honda and Acura lines, Honda landed six of the top spots.

To earn the “Top Safety Pick Plus” ranking, vehicles had to rate as good on four crash tests and have good or acceptable performance on a small overlap crash — where the front corner of a car hits an object. The vehicles also must have at least an optional forward collision warning feature that alerts drivers to the possibility of running into another car.

The requirements are stiffer than in previous years and are likely to get even harder as the institute works to make the collision warning standard on all cars.

“We want to show consumers which high-tech features are worth the money and encourage manufacturers to make them more widely available,” said Russ Rader, a spokesman for the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety. “We intend to raise the bar higher.”

In related news: Subcompact Cars Fare Poorly in Crash Tests

This should come as no great surprise, but recent safety tests showed that very small cars did poorly on those tests. Actually, I guess it was a bit of a surprise for me because some manufacturers of small cars have gone to great lengths to protect the occupants. The auto makers know this is a major obstacle in selling subcompact cars, and they have tried to allay the public’s fear by beefing up the passenger protection. But some have failed, as detailed in a recent article in the Columbian. Here are excerpts:

Subcompact cars fared poorly in new crash tests performed by an insurance industry group. None of the 12 minicars tested got the highest rating of “good” from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The Chevrolet Spark was the only car that earned the second-highest rating of “acceptable.” Six of the cars — including the segment’s best-seller, the Nissan Versa — got the lowest rating of “poor.” All of the cars were from the 2013 or 2014 model years.

“Small, lightweight vehicles have an inherent safety disadvantage. That’s why it’s even more important to choose one with the best occupant protection,” said Joe Nolan, IIHS’s senior vice president for vehicle research.

The institute’s small overlap test, which was introduced in 2012, mimics what happens when a car’s front corner collides with another vehicle or an object like a utility pole. In the test, 25 percent of a vehicle’s front end on the driver’s side strikes a rigid barrier at 40 mph. The test differs from the U.S. government’s frontal crash test, in which a car strikes a rigid barrier head-on at 35 mph.

IIHS says hitting only part of the front end makes it harder for cars to manage the energy from a crash. In several of the subcompacts, the structures collapsed, which can exacerbate injuries because the air bags, seats and other parts get knocked out of position.

In the test of the Honda Fit, for example, the steering column pushed so far into the vehicle that the dummy’s head slid off the air bag and hit the instrument panel. IIHS said the Fit was one of the worst performers in terms of potential injuries to the driver.

Cars with “marginal” ratings were the Kia Rio, Mazda2, Toyota Yaris and Ford Fiesta. Cars with “poor” ratings — in addition to the Fit, the Fiat 500 and the Versa — were the Toyota Prius C, Mitsubishi Mirage and Hyundai Accent.

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